Ever since “Mobile Suit Gundam” (Kido Senshi Gundam) first aired in Japan in 1979 and launched the “Real Robots” mecha animé genre, the Gundam franchise has been closely and almost exclusively associated with the hobby of plastic model-making —colloquially called “Plamo” for “plastic model”—to the point that it earned its own hobby subgenre, “Gunpla” for “Gundam plastic.”
Through its decades of the Universal Century canon and its alternative realities— including the wildly popular “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing” (1996), the gritty “Mobile Suit Gundam: O8th MS Team” (1996), the divisive “Mobile Suit Gundam SEED” (2002), the noirish “Mobile Suit Gundam 00” (2007) and the kid-friendly “Gundam Build Divers” (2018)—the Gundam machine has rolled out Gunpla kit after Gunpla kit, from its entry-level 1/144 to the top-of-the-line Perfect Grade 1/60 kits.
That has continued to flourish in Asia, but most of America remained unmoved outside from a devoted cult following—its mainstream audience wanted action figures, not kits that have to be assembled and painted. Bandai, which owns the Gundam toy rights, has experimented in action figures from the Mobile Suit in Action (MSIA) to the Tamashii Nations Robot Spirits. But those detailed figures were small and very expensive, meant for collectors not kids, with gummy joints and a colony of accessories. They were like finished models meant to stand sentinel on shelves than toys to be roughhoused with.
But in the year of the franchise’s 40th anniversary, Gundam is making a serious push into the action figure market with its Gundam Universe line.
Eschewing its traditional scales, Gundam Universe embraces the current action figure scale of 6-inch figures, the size of Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series and the Marvel Legends figures. This meant that you couldn’t display the Gundam Universe figures with other lines.
The centerpiece of Gundam Universe is the RX-78-2, the iconic OG suit in its universally recognized red, blue, white and yellow livery. Though there are so many iterations of this particular mobile suit that they will tend to all look alike, the Gundam Universe RX-78-2 is an entirely new mold.
You see this because of the unusual qualities. Though very much a modern sculpt, the RX-78-2 jettisons the crazy detailing of the previous toys for a simpler, cleaner look. To keep the Gundam Universe toys at a low price point (P3,000, or around P1,500), Bandai has molded the toy in solid colors and held back the paint. This is most obvious in the white parts (the arms and legs) which are badly in need of serious panel-lining as Bandai has opted for a very flat white instead of its usual metallic or pearlescent white.
Instead of the vast array of accessories and parts that came with its MSIA and Robot Spirits counterparts, the RX-78-2 only comes with alternate hands, a beam rifle, a shield and two beam sabers. The beam sabers aren’t even made out of the usual translucent red plastic but are made of a solid white plastic painted soft red. The RX-78-2 also does not come with the beam bazooka (blasphemy!) that the various versions of this mobile suit usually come with.
This philosophy bleeds into the proportions. Just holding it in your hands will make one thing evident. The figure is bottom heavy, with a noticeably smaller torso and tiny head. There is clearly heft in the legs as the figure has a low center of gravity. It has surprisingly limited articulation for such a contemporary toy, but the articulation it has is tight and reliable. You can do basic action poses but not much more. This is because the toys in the Gundam Universe line are meant to be played with, thus you can throw this figure around and pose it without concern. It’s that resilient. It also stands very easily, even after being set in action poses with accessories it can actually hold.
This then is the secret sauce of the Gundam Universe line. In terms of detail and devices, it pales in comparison to earlier figure lines. But the RX-78-2 is an interesting compromise in terms of its high functionality, simple construction and welcome price. One can see the new world order that Bandai seeks to push with the line; it seeks to infiltrate the action figure market in the West to supplement its burgeoning Gunpla monopoly. In many ways, the Gundam Universe line could easily be the introductory action figure, the first Gundam toy for any kid, and there is no better exemplar that the RX-78-2. It’s a start.
The Gundam Universe wave 1— the Gundam RX-78-2, Wing Gundam and the Gundam Unicorn in Destroy Mode— are now available in local toy shops. Wave 2—Gundam Deathscythe, Gundam Barbatos and Gundam Unicorn 02 Banshee —are due out in October.